...currently writing from: Glendora, CA
I grew up in Azusa, CA, as an only child with 2 loving parents. I always wanted siblings, (which never happened,) so in turn I grew to be extremely extroverted. I always wanted 10 friends to come over and spend the night; my friends have always been extremely important to me.
I would say that I was a relatively confident kid. I don’t recall experiencing insecurity in my earliest years of life. I was always very active; I played softball, soccer, and was something like a “tomboy” until I started taking dance classes, (in an effort to achieve my dream of becoming a Spice Girl,) when I was about 9 years old.
At the age of 9 I had my earliest experience of becoming conscious of my body.
I had started taking dance classes, which meant that I gave up my baggy pants and skateboard shoes, and traded them in for leotards and tights. Up until that morning I was not naturally inclined to compare myself to the other girls. That is, until another girl compared me to the other girls.
I was with a few friends, when a young lady that was considered “overweight” walked by, and one of my friends pointed and said, “look, there goes Athalie!” That was the first time that I became aware of the fact that my stomach stuck out farther than the other girls’, and that I looked different in my leotard than most of my friends.
From that day forward, I began to dwell more and more on the fact that I felt fat. I started sucking in my stomach, and even started paying attention to what I ate.
I was only 9 years old.
The more immersed I became into the dance world, the worse I got. I watched the movie "Center Stage" when I was 11, where one of the main characters starts making herself throw up her food. I decided I would give that a try. Thankfully, my mom heard me gagging in the bathroom and let me know that if she caught me doing it again, she would take me to a clinic. This scared me enough to make me stop - for the time being.
Years went by and I entered adolescence, then my teenage years. I grew increasingly aware of the fact that I was curvier than many of my peers.
Curves are not always praised in the dance world. Diet and weight are stressed - even among girls that are quite young. I lived in a consistent but not necessarily overwhelming state of being unsatisfied with how I looked. I started practicing the art of eating salads by the time I was 13, and comparing myself to each girl I met became routine.
My lowest point didn’t strike until I was about 17 years old. I was beginning my senior year of high school. I was: captain of the cheer team, president of the “Make a Difference” Club, in AP classes, and on ASB. I was also applying to several colleges. The world was at my feet. From the outside, I had an idyllic high school set-up.
Internally, things were starting to take a turn.
My metabolism had changed when I hit 15, and my body started to change as well. I didn’t like what was happening.
I had a big butt, no boobs, I was fair skinned, and puberty left me with very curly hair. This was amidst the early 2000’s when: big boobs, a small but, fake tanning, and stick straight hair were considered…”hot”. At least that was the prevailing ideal at Glendora High.
So. I did it all.
I tanned, I fried my hair, I prayed my boobs would grow and I sought any and every exercise that would shrink my backside.
In November of 2006, at the beginning of my senior year, I was at a birthday dinner with friends. I had eaten to the point that I felt ill. We were going to be hanging out at a friend's house after, and I was very frustrated with myself for eating so much - I knew I would have that dreadful “full” feeling all night long.
Then, I remembered that I knew how to make myself throw up.
I hadn’t done it to the point that it had become a habit yet. But I knew I could resort to it if I ever needed to. That night; I did.
And something clicked in my brain. I thought, “I can eat, and not have to worry about gaining weight?”
By December, I was down 15-20 pounds. Mind you, though – I thought I was overweight before. But I wasn’t. It wasn’t long before people started commenting on how thin I looked, and that just fueled the beast that was developing in my mind. For the next 5 years I battled a severe case of bulimia. I would throw up at least once a day, and wouldn’t go to bed unless I felt like my stomach was completely empty.
I went off to college, and my bulimia didn’t mix well with the binge drinking that takes place in a college setting. I started to gain weight again, and from that point on, my weight fluctuated pretty drastically – as did my recovery process.
My parents figured out that I had a problem very quickly. They instantly put me in therapy with a woman that specialized in eating disorders, and they took me to a nutritionist as well. Though I hated going at first, they dragged me to my appointments every week.
For a long time, I would start to make progress and would make it almost a month without making myself throw up- but I would eventually relapse.
Hopelessness began to settle in.
I didn’t see myself in the mirror any more. I saw this thing that was nothing but an object for me to criticize. The truth of the matter, and what I believe is a universal truth about eating disorders, is this:
It is really not about the weight.
The “weight” is something the mind grabs onto, because it's something tangible that can be controlled; “If I do this, then this will be the result”.
The deeper issue, the core of the problem... is at the soul level.
I didn’t like myself. I had gotten so far away from myself, that I didn’t really even know who I was. In retrospect, the drifting away from myself didn’t begin when the eating disorder started; it started long before that.
I will never regard myself as a victim - I take full and complete responsibility for everything I’ve done. However, I do believe, that over the course of our lives we encounter multiple turning points. Some of them are good, and some are not. Some of them are major, and some of them are so minor that we don’t identify that anything has changed.
But whether they are small or big, they alter our course. And the years go by and suddenly we don’t know how we got to where we are. But, if we follow the breadcrumb trail back in time, with a little self-reflection, we can identify those moments when something in us shifted, (as did our path.) These turning points can be something someone said to us, something we saw, something that happened in our family, something we did, and so on. They impact us, and if we are too caught up in self-tanning and cheer leading drama (or whatever else has our attention), we might not realize it.
Then time goes on, and we are in pain, but we are too distracted to notice it. Until one day - we have our head in a toilet, or we’re angry all the time, or we’re in an abusive relationship, or we drink too much, or that drug has become really important to our ability to function.
So, what then? How do we locate where we are and how we got there, and how do we get back to where we want to be?
Where we're meant to be?
A positive turning point for me in my battle was one day when I was in my therapist’s office. I was crying and I told her I didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to be “normal” again.
Bulimia had become such a huge part of me that I couldn’t imagine my life without it.
By this point, I had also started using various substances that were making my issue even worse.
I cried harder and I said these words to her:
“I always thought I would do something with my life. I’ve always wanted to help people. I thought I would travel and work with kids, and go see my Dad’s home in South Africa. When I was little, I used to say I was going to save the world.”
My therapist looked at me and said, “If you could go back in time and talk to yourself when you were a little girl, what would you say to her?”
I closed my eyes and envisioned the frizzy haired, freckly, semi-chubby girl on the soccer field or in the dance studio. I sat for a moment as I pictured her in my mind.
She looked innocent, full of life, excited, and fearless.
I felt sad and angry that someday she would grow up and be so unkind to herself.
I got down on my knees in front of her and I grabbed her hands and said:
“You. Are. Beautiful.
Don’t ever let anything they say make you feel different.
You. Are. Strong.
You can do anything you want, don’t let anything stop you.”
In my mind, I held that little girl in my arms and I told her I loved her. And that everything was going to be okay… Someday.
Tears run down my face even now as I write this. That moment was the first time I’d said, “I love you” to myself in a very long time. I realized that if I could believe in that little girl, I could believe in the woman that she was growing up to be.
Things didn’t miraculously get better from there; I still had a long road ahead of me, but I believed in myself again. Even if only just a little bit – I had hope.
Every now and then, I still have to revisit the little girl version of myself, to remember what she’s made of.
My journey forward led me to different recovery programs, and eventually to Jesus, though I had never been much of a “church person” before that. My faith served as a guiding light, and I suddenly had to reconcile the fact that I was actually loved by God, that He made me, and that I had a purpose.
Today, I’m 25 years old, and though I have slip-ups and bad moments...
I AM WELL.
I travel. I work with children.
I’ve seen my Father's home in South Africa.
I’m marrying a man that makes me feel completely comfortable and beautiful in my own skin.
I am living my dreams.
Mindfulness has been an art that I’ve cultivated. I still have to be aware of my relationship with food and myself, but I’m getting better at it every day.
As I get older, I grow more and more in awe of our bodies and how brilliant they really are. I have respect for my body and what it is capable of, and my desire is to be strong - both inside and out.
I fear for the young people of the next generation. With the pervasiveness of plastic surgery and the Kardashian ideal, I am deeply concerned and burdened by the implications for our young ones.
I believe we make a difference in this issue by addressing the souls of people.
I don’t think people will stop getting liposuction because they’re told it’s not good for them, I think will they stop getting liposuction when they believe they don’t need it.
So, I will get down on my knees in front of as many little girls as I can and tell them,
"You are Beautiful."
And I will strive to create turning points in the lives of the people around me that will lead them back to who they were meant to be. To their purpose. And to the One who made them and loves them just as they are.
- Athalie Waugh